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Court of the Four Seasons
The Court of the Four Seasons, unlike the other main courts, does not immediately call forth one's exclamations of surprise and delight. It is not so compellingly beautiful as either of the others. Nevertheless it has a distinctive charm of its own - a reposeful atmosphere and a simplicity of form that become more and more appealing with riper acquaintance. It is a good place to come to when one is satiated with the beauties of the other courts, for restfulness is the keynote. The simple massive style of the architecture and the simple planting scheme combine to produce a spirit of calm. The ideas of energy, achievement, progress, effort - so insistently emphasized elsewhere - are left behind, and everything breathes a sense of peace and orderliness, of things happening all in good season.
The primary idea underlying the decorative features of the court is sufficiently indicated in the name, "The Four Seasons;" and this idea is symbolically expressed in the sculpture and mural paintings in the four corners of the colonnade. But a study of the other decorations shows that the idea of abundance, or fruitfulness, was equally in the minds of architect and sculptors. The purely architectural ornaments, such as the capitals and the running borders, employ the symbols of agriculture and fruitfulness, while no less than five of the main sculptural groups or figures deal directly with harvest themes.
The style of architecture is in general Roman. The half-dome and the colonnades are almost severely classic. The column capitals are Ionic. But in the freedom of some of the architectural forms, particularly in the archways at east and west, there is a suggestion of Renaissance influence. The plan with its four cut-corners with fountains, and its half-dome facing down the long colonnade to the bay, is ingenious. The half-dome itself, dominating feature of the court, is exceptionally dignified and impressive. To obtain the best view of it as a single unit, one should stand between two columns of the colonnade near either the Fountain of Summer or the Fountain of Autumn - as from these points the eye is not carried through the doorway at the back of the dome, to the detriment of a unified impression.
Henry Bacon is the architect who designed the Court of the Four Seasons.
Bulls on pylons. The finest sculpture here is to be found in the groups capping the pylons at the entrance to the minor north court. Though called by the artist "The Feast of Sacrifice," these are commonly known as "The Bulls." The group, which is duplicated, shows a bull being led to sacrifice by a youth and a maid, and is reminiscent of the harvest-time celebrations of ancient peoples. But it is just as well to forget the subject, and to admire purely for the sensuous charm - for the beauty of outline, the fine modeling, and the remarkable sense of spirited action. Note the three figures individually: the nobly animated bull, the magnificently set-up youth, and the strong yet graceful maiden; then note how the sacrificial garland holds the whole group together and makes it richer. Note, too, how the forward-moving lines of the bull are accentuated on one side by the similar lines of the youth's body, and on the other by the contrasting lines of the girl's. Putting aside any question of meaning, there is not in any of the courts a nobler bit of decorative work than this. Albert Jaegers was the sculptor.
Figures surmounting columns. On the two columns before the half-dome are Albert Jaegers' figures of "Rain" and "Sunshine." At the right, as one faces the dome, Rain is typified by a woman shielding her head with her mantle and holding out a shell to catch the water. At the left Sunshine is represented by a woman shielding her head from the sun's rays with a palm-branch. Both figures are characterized by a sense of richness, of fullness, that is perfectly in keeping with the spirit of the court. In commenting on these statues, in one of his lectures on the art of the Exposition, Eugen Neuhaus, the well-known California painter, suggested very appropriately that the court should have been named for them "The Court of the Two Seasons" since in California the only noticeable seasonal change is from a sunny period to a rainy period.
Group surmounting half-dome. This shows a conventional seated figure of Harvest, with an overflowing cornucopia. At one side a child-figure bows under a load of fruit. This group also is by Albert Jaegers. Here, as in "Rain" and "Sunshine," there is a sense of fruitfulness, of profuseness, a maternal suggestion that helps to carry out the symbolism of the court. In all three of these statues, too, there is something of the nobility and massiveness that distinguish the same artist's "bull" groups across the court. All are eminently suited to the massive Roman architecture; nowhere else have sculptor and architect worked together more successfully.
Fountains of the Seasons. In the niches formed at the corners of the court by the diagonal colonnades are novel fountains, surmounted by groups representing the four seasons. It is well to go first to the southwest corner, to the "Fountain of Spring"; then to the northwest corner, for "Summer"; and so on around the court. If one is ever puzzled to understand from the figures which season is represented, a glance at the labeled murals up above in the corridor will give the proper title for statue and murals of each season are grouped together.
Spring. A young woman draws a floral garland over her head, while at her right a love-lorn youth turns a pleading face to her, and at her left a girl brings armfuls of flowers.
Summer. To a man a woman holds up a babe, symbol of the summer of human life, while at one side a crouching figure holds a sheaf of full-headed grain.
Autumn. The central figure is a woman of generous build with a jar on her shoulder - quite the usual personification of Autumn or fruitfulness. At one side a young woman holds a garland of grapes, and at the other is a girl with a babe. This last figure is perhaps the most graceful in all the four groups, though the same sort of loveliness distinguishes to a certain extent the two flower-girls of "Spring." Altogether, this "Autumn" fountain is probably the finest of the four.
Winter. The central figure is Nature, in the nakedness of winter, resting after the harvests of autumn and waiting for the birth of spring. At one side a man with a spade rests, while on the other a man with a seed-bag is already beginning to sow. Although all the figures of "The Fountains of the Seasons" are nude, there is about this group a sense of cold nakedness that well accords with the season it portrays.
These four groups are very properly alike in composition and feeling-suggesting perhaps that the differences between the seasons in California are but slight. There is throughout a conventional touch, and all are in pastoral mood. The groups are by Furio Piccirilli.
The Fountain of Ceres is in the north extension of the court, between the Palace of Food Products and the Palace of Agriculture. The surmounting figure is of Ceres, Greek goddess of the fields and especially of corn. The bas-relief frieze represents a group of dancers, suggestive of the seasonal festivals of the Greeks. The main figure has been much criticized, but an unbiased critic may find much in the fountain to praise. The pedestal and the crowning figure are well thought out, and the proportions of the whole are good; and there is a feeling of classic simplicity throughout. The frieze of dancing girls, too, is exceptionally graceful. If, then, one discovers that Ceres is more mature than a goddess ever ought to be, or that her face suggests that of an exasperated school-teacher, or if one finds the cornstalk in her hand a realistic thing incompatible with any poetic conception, it is well to step back until one gets only the general effect. For there is much to admire in the poise of the figure, in the decorative outline, and in the sculptor's lightness of touch. The fountain was designed by Evelyn Beatrice Longman.
Minor Sculptures. On the archways at east and west of the court a high-relief figure by August Jaegers is repeated eight times, and the spandrels over the arches are by the same artist. In both cases the idea of abundance or fruitfulness again supplies the motive. The boxes at the bases of the columns on which "Rain" and "Sunshine" stand are decorated with agricultural scenes in low relief. The capitals at the tops of these columns are enriched with groups of agricultural figures. Within the archways at east and west the ceilings are decorated with delicate bas-relief designs, patterned after the famous ones at Villa Maderna, Rome.
All the murals in the Court of the Four Seasons are by H. Milton Bancroft. In general they are less interesting than those of any other court.
The Seasons. In the four corners of the colonnade there are eight panels, grouped by twos as follows: Spring and Seed Time; Summer and Fruition; Autumn and Harvest; and Winter and Festivity. There is little to hold the attention either in richness of color or in unusual grace of composition. Moreover, the artist has left nothing to the imagination in the symbolism by which he expresses the several ideas. The devices are so hackneyed, and the meaning so obvious, that any sort of interpretation would be entirely superfluous.
Panels under half-dome. On the east wall under the dome is the panel Art Crowned by Time. Father Time crowns Art, while on one side stand figures representing Weaving, Jewelry, and Glasswork, and on the other Printing, Pottery, and Smithery. On the opposite wall is the panel Man Receiving Instruction in Nature's Laws. A woman holds before a babe a tablet inscribed "Laws of Nature," while on one side are figures of Fire, Earth and Water, and on the other figures of Death, Love, and Life. These two larger panels are more pleasing than the eight representing the Seasons, both in coloring and in figure composition; and they make pleasing spots of bright color in the dome. But again the artist is tediously careful to make his meanings plain. Not only does each figure hold its obvious symbol prominently in view, but there are labels naming the figures. To the art student the painter's stipple-and-line method, producing vibration of light and a certain freshness of atmosphere, will be of interest, as being out of the usual run of mural technique.
Before leaving the Court of the Four Seasons one should stand under the central arch of the triple portal at the east, and look first to the east through the Arch of the Setting Sun to the group "Nations of the East;" and then to the west along the vista that ends with the kneeling figure before the Fine Arts temple. The arrangement of architectural and sculptural units in both vistas is worthy of study.